History

American Collage

Our focus, these past few weeks, has been directed toward several aspects of the American experience –

Part of the American Collage “The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects”, by Richard Kurin.  (We began by learning a bit about the Smithsonian Institution’s 19 museums and 9 research centers sites – mostly located in Washington DC).  So far, our favorite objects in the book’s collection:   

Columbus piombo    washington uniform

  • The well known portrait of Christopher Columbus that may not be a representation of the man at all – it was painted in 1519, more than 10 years after his death 
  • George Washington’s ultra elegant uniform (designed by George Washington!) 
  • The Bible that Thomas Jefferson edited for himself (leaving out parts he did not believe in)(discussion provoking)

It is going to take us months to work through this book.  We’re glad.

Part of the American Collage – “The Amish of Lancaster County” by Donald B. Kraybill.  Easy to read, up to date (published in 2019), with lovely, plentiful photographs.  Emphasized:  COMMUNITY and the hard working, self-sufficiency, graceful, modest, and religion-centered values of the Amish.  Of great fascination to us was the Amish education system:

amish school

  • all grades are taught in a one-room school 
  • science is not taught in school (we discussed)
  • there is no school after age 14 (we discussed)
  • teachers are not certified, college educated, or even high school graduates (we discussed)

Part of the American Collage – “The Blue Angels”, by Keillor and Wheeler.  Descriptive writing and heart-stopping photographs showcase the precision daredevil abilities of the Navy pilots demonstration team, thrilling everyone since 1946.  Most exciting chapter:  THE MANEUVERS! “The Delta Breakout”! “Loop Breaks”! “Six Plane Cross”!  “The Fleur-de-Lis”!  I asked my son if he would like to fly in a Blue Angel formation and the answer was a YES.  Count me out.  Also, you can count out any Amish community members from soaring with the  Blue Angels as they are (1) forbidden from joining the military and (2) forbidden from riding in airplanes of any sort.  CHANGE OF TOPIC: the first female Blue Angel joined the team in 2014 (we discussed).

Part of the American Collage – “The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa”, by Paul Edmund Bierley.  We have never come across a book with its subject so thoroughly documented.  This book catalogs every tour, concert, concert program, musical instrument, and musician of the Sousa Band’s 40 year run.  Take aways, so far –

  • In 1889, Sousa sold the publishing rights to “The Washington Post March” for –  OH DEAR IT HURTS TO EVEN TYPE THIS – $35  
  • Sousa composed over 130 marches.  Most famous: “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, composed in 1896 and declared “Official National March of the USA” by an act of the US Congress in 1987
  • Between 1892 through 1931, the band presented just under 16,000 concerts, zigzagging all over the world.  SIXTEEN THOUSAND.
  • Sousa’s Band was a concert band, marching only eight times during the course of 40 years

Part of the American Collage – “Appleseed, The Life and Legacy of John Chapman”, by Joshua Blair.  We’ve learned:

  • Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) was a real person (1774 – 1845), not a made up legend (although he did travel barefoot, wearing the darnedest clothes, just like the legends proclaim)
  • how he procured the apple seeds (from cider factories!)
  • how and where he set up apple nurseries and the importance of these nurseries
  • of his ability to trusted by westward moving pioneer settlers as well as native Americans
  • how he utterly embodied the spirit of the Swedenborgian religion; the apple tree planting being his ministry
  • in case you are still reading – I painted the “Johnny Appleseed Song” on our kitchen wall (pictured above) in 2003 to celebrate my father’s 82nd birthday because he loved this sung as grace before dinner

apple pie

“As American as Apple Pie” story problem – Of course, Le Fictitious Local Diner sponsors an apple pie baking contest each July 4th.  Last year 40 people entered the contest and there was a three-way tie for best pie:

  • Dr. Susan’s “Doctored-up Super Cinnamon Apple Pie”
  • Tennis Pro Tom’s “What’s Not To Love-Love Apple Lemon Tart”
  • Miss Maddy’s “I-Want-More Burnt Sugar Apple Extravaganza Pie”  

1)  If each pie used an average of 6 apples, how many apples were used to make up all the pies entered into the contest?

2)  If each pie maker practiced on 3 pies before baking their entry pie, how many apples were used to make up all pies (practice and entry pies)?

3)  If the pie bakers bought their apples from Farmer Brown’s fruit stand, did the stand sell more or less than 1,000 apples for the event? 

4)  If the three winning pies were placed on the diner menu for the month of July, and 10 of each were served over the course of the month, how many apples were used to make the menu pies?   (answers at bottom of post)

Look what we made:  our American experience collage (my son’s first collage)

Part of the American Collage – Classical Music:

Amy Beach’s “Fireflies” from “Four Sketches, opus 15”, 1892.  (Amy Beach is noted as being the first female American composer.)  “Fireflies” may just be our favorite summertime classical music selection.  We have probably listened to it 100 times, each time reminding us of firefly magic during sultry summer nights when we lived in Georgia.  The piece sparkles –

Florence Price’s “Silk Hat and Walking Cane” from her “Dances in the Canebrakes”, 1953.   (Florence Price is noted as being the first female African-American composer.)  This delightful short piece provided an opportunity to chat with my son about this well-structured composition’s thematic set-up:  We listened for themes  A – B – A (developed) – C – and finally back to A –  

Charles Ives’ “Country Band March”, composed in 1903.  This is a true musical collage in which Ives has jaggedly juxtaposed fragments from more than 12 recognizable American marches and folk melodies.  When we listen to this, my son and I pretend we are making our way through a crowded carnival midway with American music blaring at us from all sides – 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1)  240 apples,  2)  960 apples,  3)  less, 4) 180 apples)

A Glimpse and a Glance

What was life like for my son’s grandparents, who were teenagers during the Great Depression and young adults during World War II?  

We got a glimpse of the Great Depression – through Cheryl Mullenbach’s first-rate book “The Great Depression for Kids”:

  • setting the scene for the Great Depression: the roaring twenties
  • Herbert Hoover’s policies and FDR’s “New Deal”
  • and when things could not get any worse: the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s
  • differences between city schools and country schools
  • fun diversions:  roller derbies, the circus, Shirley Temple
  • neighbor helping neighbor, farmer helping farmer  (very heartening)
  • vocabulary and concepts defined:  migrant workers, prohibition, the stock market, banks collapsing, breadlines, striking workers, rationing, silent movies /“talkies”, rural, urban

We got a glimpse of the early days of World War II – through Richard Peck’s YA novel, “On the Wings of Heroes”.  Peck’s short chapters seamlessly combine the realities of a nation at war with a middle school student’s realities:

  • an adored older brother serving in the air force
  • rationing (we did not know that even shoes were rationed)
  • collection drives for the war effort (rubber tires, paper, all types of metal), culminating in the most wonderful town event:  a parade of rusted out jalopies headed for the scrap yard
  • ineffectual teachers vs. dynamite craftier-than-a-fox teachers
  • classroom bullies (who are served their just desserts)
  • the best friend
  • the hilarious next door neighbors

This is a comforting book set during nervous times and a perfect follow up to our study of the Great Depression.

A glimpse at trees and the high seas – 

Trees, a Rooted History” –  Socha and Grajkowski explore 32 tantalizing tree topics and team them with clever, superbly executed illustrations.  Our favorite two-page spreads: prehistoric trees (lots of fern-like leaves), the tallest trees (FYI, the tallest tree in the world:  “Hyperion”, a coast redwood in California), tree houses (why yes, we would like to stay in the treehouse on the grounds of  Amberley Castle in England), and the art of bonsai (who can’t love the sheer art and patience evident in a bonsai tree?).

We concluded our tree unit with a fill-in-the-blank version of the Joyce Kilmer’s poem of 1913, “Trees”.  (This was easy for my son – we have read this poem many times.)

Speaking of trees:  a Farmer Brown story problem – Farmer Brown’s cat, Olive, loves to scamper to the top of the front yard apple tree, but is jittery about the descent.  Smart thinking Farmer Brown has been successful in coaxing Olive down the tree with a fragrant offering of tuna.  If a can of tuna costs $4 and Farmer Brown needs to lure Olive down around 7 times a month, will $400 be enough to cover the cost of Olive’s “rescue tuna” this year?  (answer at bottom of post)

deep sea voyage

Professor Astro Cat’s Deep-Sea Voyage” – YAY! We have the new book by Dr. Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman!  My son and I have loved every book by this team (especially “Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space”).  And once again, THIS IS WHAT A LEARNING EXPERIENCE SHOULD LOOK LIKE IN BOOK FORM.  We are only half way through, but here is what has grasped our attention so far:

  • How low can you go?  My son and I both shivered as we read about depth zones in the ocean.  How it gets darker/colder and darker/colder and darker/colder the lower you go (thank heavens for deep sea vents) .  We found the Mariana Trench (the deepest known place on Earth) on our globe and pondered how anybody found this in the first place.
  • Ocean birds:  We are giving “A+ for Effort Awards” to cormorants, sea birds that can dive to 130 feet below sea level, and Arctic terns, who migrate further than any other animal on Earth (from north pole to south pole).
  • Octopuses have NINE brains: each arm has a brain – after getting over the semi-creepiness of this, we mused over the mechanics of an arm having a brain.
  • Most thought provoking:  those who have viewed fish tanks at any aquarium will have seen schools of fish moving together quickly and almost poetically.  Now that we think about it, we have never seen fish bumping into each other.  WHY?  Because fish have something totally confusing called the LATERAL LINE SYSTEM which enables them to detect vibrations, movement, and pressure from their surroundings.  

manderinefish

  • The utterly elegant manderinefish:  our new favorite fish 

A glance at ants –  If you need to know about ants, may we recommend, “The Life and Times of the Ant”, by Charles Micucci.  It is simply jammed with all sorts of stuff we budding ant scholars did not know previously, like:  

  • an ant scholar is properly known as a myrmecologist (what an RTW – really tough word)
  • a queen ant can live for up to 15 years and can produce 1million eggs annually
  • all worker ants are ladies;  the only job for male ants is fathering ant young ’uns
  • ants rely on the senses of touch, smell, sound, and taste (but not sight)

Concluding thought:   ants have been busy on Earth for around 100 million years.  They are smart, strong and supremely organized.  Homo sapiens have been busy on Earth for less than 1 million years.  Some of us are smart, some are strong, few are supremely organized.  No wonder we cannot get a handle on how to deal with ants in the sugar bowl.

Classical Music Time – we created a soundtrack for busy ants:

  • Moto Perpetuo by Niccolo Paganini,  1835.  We’re imagining ants with teeny iPods, working non-stop to the rhythm of Paganini’s composition.  Do they notice how this four and a half minute piece seems to be managed on a single breath by trumpet virtuoso, Wynton Marsalis?

  • Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, composed in 1748 by George Frideric Handel for his oratorio, “Solomon”.  All hail the Queen of the Ant Colony!  After producing all those eggs, this little lady deserves all the royal pomp that Handel can muster – 

  • Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, movement 3 – Oh my, it is as if Tchaikovsky was writing about ants marching toward the ultimate prize:  A PICNIC BASKET.  There they go!  March, march, march, up and down little hills on the trail, no time for funny business.  But wait!  About a minute and a half in, AN OBSTACLE in the middle of the path!  A big leaf perhaps?  But take heart, quick thinking ants maneuver around the leaf and by minute 3, they are back on track.  What a grand ending as the picnic basket is reached (even the orchestra’s conductor is jubilant!).  Treasures (maybe a potato chip and cookie crumbs) are hoisted to bring back to the Queen, and the march back to the colony’s nest commences.  (My son LOVED the commentary and welcomed it again in the next night’s music line-up)(success!) –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  yes)

The Fireproof Safe

safe third

Prologue-
Q: Did my son know what a safe was?
Q: Did my son know what “fireproof” meant?
Those resolved, Q: If my son owned a factory that produced fireproof safes, how would he mark the occasion of the sale of the 20,000th safe?  (Wait, what?)  Would he do what the Wertheim Company of Vienna did in 1869?
The story – I estimate that my son and I have listened to Joseph Strauss’s “Feuerfest Polka” about 240 times.  It is fast-moving, happy, accented with the pinging of a hammer on an anvil, and comes with an adorable story – the polka was commissioned in 1869 by Franz von Wertheim, whose firm produced fireproof safes (feuerfest means fireproof in German).  The music was in celebration of Wertheim’s 20,000th safe! My son and I spent time imagining a company today commissioning a polka for the 20,000th production of anything.  This is SO GOLD.
“Feuerfest Polka”: the story continues – Because of the hammer/anvil pinging, we’ve been referring to Strauss’s piece as the “Blacksmith Polka” for years.  But last week it occurred to me that my son might not know what a blacksmith was.  Did he?  No.  Oh, dear.  Time to find out about blacksmithing.  We chose “History of the Blacksmith in Photographs” by Bryan Crawmer, and “The Backyard Blacksmith” by Lorelei Sims.  Both exceptionally helpful.  To conclude this unit I read aloud (the quite lengthy), “The Village Blacksmith” by Longfellow.

blacksmith books

Epilogue – Because of a very short piece of music, my son now knows about blacksmithing and fireproof safes.  AND BTW, The Wertheim Company is still making safes.

All is calm – We have just finished “The Prairie Builders” a superb book by Sneed B. Collard III, for which he received the American Association for Advancement of Science Award in 2006.  It chronicles the reconstruction of an 8,000+ acre tall grass prairie in Iowa, beginning in 1992 – the site preparation, the reintroduction of native seeds, bison, elk, butterflies. The pureness, calmness of both endeavor and writing reminds us of “The Ox-Cart Man” (Donald Hall/ Barbara Cooney, Caldecott Medal 1980).  Both soothing reads make us appreciate focused, honest work.

“How Trains Work” – a comprehensive, high energy, vibrantly illustrated Lonely Planet Kids Book. Our two favorite takeaways:
– We found out exactly how a funicular works.  We have known about funiculars, but did not have a grasp on the mechanics. (See blog post of November 22, 2014, “Mounting Interest”) (the post is one of my faves)
– We were reading about suspension railways (sort of like an upside-down monorail) and came across this SHOCKINGLY AWFUL YET HILARIOUS account: in 1950, for an ill-thought-out circus publicity stunt, an elephant named Tuffi was traveling on a suspension railway in Germany.  She FREAKED OUT and jumped out of the train (40 feet above ground). LUCKILY she landed in a river and was rescued. Well! This certainly speaks to the sturdiness of that particular suspension railroad.

Reading for great pleasure – We have just started Richard Peck’s book of short stories, “Past Perfect, Present Tense” and it is so A+.  The introduction, an essay on the short story genre, should be required reading. Two points stuck with us –
(semi-direct quote)  “Stories present the metaphor of change, to prepare the readers for changes coming in their lives.  NON-READERS WILL NEVER BE READY” (I added the caps)
(semi-direct quote)  “A short story isn’t easier to write than a novel.  It has less time to plead its case.”
Last night we read the first story in the collection, “Priscilla and the Wimps”, AND LOVED IT.  In the span of 4 pages, the best short story we have ever read.  First of all, THE TITLE.  Second of all, SWEET JUSTICE! Oh my gosh, the ending!  This is re-read worthy.

Story Problem – Le Fictitious Local Diner has an app! (not really)(for story problem purposes only) – And what’s on the app?  Videos of cooking demonstrations from local celebrity/diner chef Jeanette.  The diner is paying Chef Jeanette $50 for each uploaded video and $1 for every view.  Views so far:
– “Bake your own Potato Chips with Chef Jeanette”:  20 views
– “Diner Cherry Pie with Chef Jeanette”:  15 views
– “Diner Healthy Diet Plate with Chef Jeanette”:  0 views
– “Hot Dogs in Pastry Dough with Chef Jeanette”:  25 views
– “Let’s Make Salmon Treats for your Cat with Chef Jeanette”:  500 views
At this point, how much does the diner owe Chef Jeanette?
A) $250    B) $560    C) $810    D) $1,000 (answer at bottom of post)

From our classical music time –
To honor short stories:  the very shortest piece on our iPod – Glenn Gould’s lightning fast interpretation of Bach’s Invention No. 13 in A minor (composed in the early 1700’s).  Usually this piece takes just over a minute, Gould has shaved off 15 seconds –

To honor the Regal Fritillary butterfly, reintroduced to the prairie project:  a composition for piano and two flutes, “Deux Papillons” (Two Butterflies) by Emil Kronke, composed in 1739.  Spritely performance in gorgeous cathedral setting –

And of course, to honor Franz von Wertheim’s 20,000th fireproof safe, Josef Strauss’s “Feuerfest Polka”:  this performance is pretty cute, with conductor and “local blacksmith” fighting for control of the orchestra –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answer: C). $810)

Heady Times

 

The Moai of Easter Island – of course we wanted to learn about the carved heads (moai) of Easter Island (AKA Rapa Nui).  Steadfast, benevolent, thoughtful in demeanor, some sporting jolly red hats, and of course, all preposterously large:  what’s not to love?  First, we found Easter Island on our globe – a remote tiny piece of land (a mere 64 square miles)(we discussed what 64 square miles would mean) in the Pacific Ocean (and FYI, a territory of Chile).  Then we read through James Grant-Peterkin’s “A Companion to Easter Island” to learn about the the 900 moai that honor ancestors, guard the island, and perhaps mark areas near fresh water.  We learned that – 

  • the island was formed by three volcanos and the moai were carved 500 to 800 years ago from solidified volcanic ash
  • the method of transporting the cumbersome and weighty moai from quarry to specifically chosen places around the island remains a mystery 
  • Easter Island was officially declared a “World Heritage Site” (protected by international treaties) by the United Nations in 1995
  • there are concerns by the scientific community that the island’s iconic statues nearest the shore line might sink into the ocean due to climate changes (storms, rising water levels)   

opera books

The Lewis and Clark Expedition – our final thoughts after finishing “The Captain’s Dog” by Roland Smith:   the endeavor was significantly more lengthy and challenging than anticipated, and SOMEHOW it succeeded.  One word:  LEADERSHIP.  We discussed the extraordinary skills possessed by Captains Lewis and Clark in keeping their assembly of 31 healthy, fed, and motivated for the two and a half year trek – diplomacy, bartering, first aid competence, hunting, managing difficult personalities (Charbonneau, for one), map charting, journal keeping, river navigation, quick decision making.  President Jefferson chose well.  This venture could have gone so wrong.

read by himself

More read-to-himself stories – In the last post I mentioned that I had started my son on a few “read-to-himself” short stories about family members.  This activity kept his focus, so this past week he read and answered a few questions about:
– Holly’s San Francisco Cats
– How Mom and Dad Met
– When Ben Stopped Traffic

More and more learning –

  • how does one get to be my age (dirt) and still not know the exact relationship between an ounce and a gram?  So we BOTH learned that there are around 28 grams to 1 ounce.  We breezed through a pretty good little kids book, “How Do You Measure Weight” by Thomas K. and Heather Adamson.
  • we also reviewed basic time conventions:  the 12-hour a.m./p.m. clock and the 24-hour military clock.  (Vocab:  Ante, Post, Meridiem)

opera house

We’re learning about opera! – every night we are reading one act from the 15 selected operas in “Sing Me a Story – The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children” by Jane Rosenberg.  And one act per night is plenty:  the number of characters, disguises and deceptions worked into a single act is bewildering.  This book does a commendable job of explaining each opera while keeping our interest (and it is a perfect resource for anyone, not just children).  So far, we have read through Aida – Ahmal and the Night Visitors – The Barber of Seville – La Boheme – Carmen.

juke box

Story Problem:  Opera music at Le Fictitious Local Diner – During the fall months, the local diner is hosting Italian Night every Friday.  Three Italian cuisine specials are offered AND Chef George (opera aficionado) replaces every single jukebox selection with music from Verdi, Rossini, and Puccini.  This is quite a project, as each table’s jukebox can offer up to 100 song titles.  But we digress:

(1)  Dinner is served at the diner from 5 until 11, and each aria (vocab) lasts an average of 4 minutes.  If a typical patron is in the diner for 45 minutes, how many opera selections will said diner probably hear? 
a)  11 songs     b)  24 songs     c)  45 songs     d)  90 songs

(2)  How many aria’s will be played from the start to conclusion of dinner service?
a)  11 arias     b)  24 arias     c)  45 arias     d)  90 arias
(answers at bottom of post)

music collage

Our classical music for the week – we had no choice:  we had to sample music from the operas we were reading about – 

  • Aida – we learned that Verdi was commissioned to compose SOMETHING to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal.  Aida premiered in 1871 (the canal opened in 1869).  Here we watch the “Triumphal March” and WHAT A PRODUCTION.  The first half has soldiers marching across the stage and there are so many of them that my son and I paused to wonder if there were really only a handful of soldier/actors that marched across the stage and then ran full speed across the backstage to reappear as more solders.  Anyway, a very authoritative, majestic march:

  • Barber of Seville – Rossini’s popular opera, which premiered in 1816, and we listened to one of the most popular songs in the entire opera repertoire, “Largo al factotum”.  Lots of fun:

  • La Boheme – Puccini’s heartbreaker opera, premiering in 1896.  We listened to “Musetta’s Waltz”, after I explained to my son the term, “flirtatious”.   That Musetta!  A consummate flirt:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answers:  (1) a)  11 songs and (2) d)  90 arias)
P.S.  We’re still here.  I am hating the time gap since my last post (a series of holy disaster disruptions in our agenda), but we are still here, and we are still exploring new topics and reading stories every night.

From the Wanderlust Files

Wanderlust – 
“You don’t even know where I’m going.”
“I don’t care. I’d like to go anywhere.” 
― John Steinbeck, “Travels with Charley:  In Search of America”

Wanderlust –
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

Wanderlust – 
“The gene itself, which is identified as DRD4-7R, has been dubbed the “wanderlust gene,” because of its correlation with increased levels of curiosity and restlessness.”
― Dan Scotti, March 2015 edition of Elite Daily

and more Wanderlust – The Lewis and Clark Expedition – My son and I agree that there had to be a heaping helping of DRD4-7R present among the army volunteers assembled for President Thomas Jefferson’s “Corps of Discovery Expedition” (otherwise known as the “Lewis and Clark Expedition”).  We are reading Roland Smith’s “The Captain’s Dog”.  Each chapter begins with an entry from Captain Meriwether Lewis’s journal and the remainder of the chapter is told from the perspective of Lewis’s dog, Seaman.  We happily open this book up every night and use the included map to follow the arduous journey through the Louisiana Purchase territory and Oregon Country.  New vocab/concepts:  court marshal  –  desertion  –  forts  –  fur trappers  –  grizzly bears  –  keelboats  –  parley  –  pirogue  –  portage  –  privates  –  river currents

wanderlust books

and more Wanderlust – All things Hobo – Hello relentless traveler:  lots of DRD4-7R going on here.  My son and I have learned that a hobo is a continually traveling worker, and the traveling is done by means of a “free” ride on a train.  We are halfway into Barbara Hacha’s comprehensive resource, “Mulligan Stew”.  Just ask us about hobo signs, symbols, carved nickels, bindles, and the dangers of riding the rails.  We’ve read through “Tourist Union 63”, an (excellent) ethical code of behavior chartered by 63 hobos in 1889.  We’ve read about the National Hobo Convention, held annually in Britt, Iowa since 1900.  We’ve read about hobo funerals (sidebar: there is actually a marked gravesite in the hobo section of the Britt cemetery to honor “The Unknown Hobo”).  

and other stuff:

reading

Stop the presses – a few weeks back, someone asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks: Could my son read?  Whoa.  I thought so, but how could I have overlooked that?  So I have added something into our STORIES AND STUDIES routine:  a VERY SHORT story with a few follow up questions.  I remain silent, but I do help my son run his index finger under each line of text.  Then he answers the questions.  Is he reading?  YES!!!!! PHEW!!!!!  He has now read about:

  • Grandmother’s job at a potato chip factory
  • Aunt Susan’s blue ribbon for best pie in the state of California!
  • Peppy, Dog Obedience School Drop-out
  • The Shoes in the Ice Block Contest

carter jones book

Current fiction reading – Gary Schmidt’s “Pay attention Carter Jones”.  We pretty much always enjoy a Gary Schmidt book, but this one is a little daunting.  Premise is adorable – a family is bequeathed the services of a British butler.  But (here is the “but”):  the butler is intent upon teaching the family’s son the British game with the most bewildering set of rules and traditions:  CRICKET.  Every night when I pick up the book I think, oh my gosh, what did we learn last night and is my son picking up any of this?  Still, he is not pushing the book away, and if you look beyond the confusing cricket component, the dialog is fun reading.   

and who doesn’t love a Venn Diagram?  Sets, unions, intersections:  what’s not to like?  My son is FOCUSED! 

venn diagram

From our Venn Vault:
Set A – letters of first half of alphabet 
Set B – letters of last half of alphabet 
Intersection – letters that rhyme with “B”

Set A – people who like to wear red clothes
Set B – people who are jolly 
Intersection  Santa Claus

Set A – odd numbers 1-20
Set B – even numbers 1-20 
Intersection  numbers that can be divided by 3

 

marshmallow roast

A Farmer Brown story problem – Farmer Brown and his farm hands have invited just about everyone they know to a Labor Day campfire!  Farmer Brown has purchased loads of s’more fixings:  marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers, and the hands have prepared roasting skewers for the marshmallows. The ranch has 4 campfire pits, and each can accommodate 8 marshmallow roasters at a time.  It takes 5 minutes of careful tending to warm a marshmallow to a perfect golden brown.  If 60 friends show up to the s’more fest, how long will it take for everyone to roast a marshmallow for their first s’more of the evening? (answer at bottom of post)

Memorial Service Music to honor The Unknown Hobo – 

The Big Rock Candy Mountain – this song about a mythical hobo heaven (complete with “cigarette trees”, oh dear), was first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, and has been sung at hobo funerals.   My son and I listened to the original McClintock recording:

Ashokan Farewell – composed in 1982 by American folk musician, Jay Ungar.  From the very first bar, the piece captures the sense of loss, and yet, as each additional instrument joins in, we also feel surrounded by the warmth and camaraderie of more and more friends –

Song of the Riverman, from “The American Scene” – even though this is the song of the riverman, my son and I clearly hear the smooth rhythm of the rails.  Composed by William Grant Still in 1957, the melody conveys strength, wistfulness, loneliness and a bit of danger.  The somberness is so right for this memorial service –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  10 minutes)

“D”s Dominated

duncan 2

First, DUNCAN DORFMAN – Meg Wolitzer’s engaging, “The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman” transported us into the world of competitive Scrabble.  A member of our family plays competitive chess (a US Chess Federation “National Master” – we are kind of proud), so my son is familiar with the concept of board game competition.  The book mentions scrabble tiles and racks over and over, so I brought some tiles and racks for my son to see, touch, try out (regretfully, NO interest).  My son actually does like filling out book reports, and I was happy to see that he picked up on the main themes of this well structured book (ethics, friendship, the roller-coaster emotions of competition).  

doolittle illustration

Then, DR. DOOLITTLE – My son and I are nearly through Hugh Lofting’s timeless adventure, “The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle”.  Here is what we think:  the pleasures of reading this book double when it is read out loud, allowing reader and listener to savor the poetic preposterousness of Lofting’s relentless imagination – delicious names and places like Popsipetel, Bag-Jagderag, Jip, Dab-Dab, Wiff-Waff, Don Ricky-Ticky.  One more thing – the copy we are reading (a 2012 printing) includes spectacular vintage-style illustrations by Scott McKowen.

indian contributions book

Then, DUCK DECOYS – “Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World”, complied by Emory Sea Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield – a well edited resource we looked forward to opening every night.  A better mom would have read aloud every single entry, but alas, my son had to settle for learning about one topic from each letter of the alphabet.  Adobe, balls, canoes, duck decoys, earache treatments (well, that was gross), fringed clothing, gourds, hominy (I really built this one up with the hope of my son giving hominy a try – GIANT CORN ARE YOU KIDDING????  Who wants to sample some WAY FUN GIANT CORN??? Alas, no luck.  I have no influence.), igloos, jicama, kayaks, lacrosse, maple syrup, nasturtiums, observatories, popcorn, quipus, rafts, salsa, tipis, umbrellas, vanilla, wampum, yams (we skipped X and Z).  

lattice pie

Then, DESSERTS AT THE DINER (a story problem)During summer months, Miss Michelle (famed pastry chef at the diner) bakes pies every morning:  4 apple pies, 2 apricot lattice (vocab) pies, 2 peach pies, 2 cherry lattice pies, 1 blueberry pie, 1 blackberry pie, 1 rhubarb pie, and 2 lemon meringue pies.  Each pie gets sliced into 6 servings.  

  • If a tour bus with 80 passengers stops at the diner for lunch, would all passengers be able to enjoy a serving of pie?
  • How many pie crusts does famed pastry chef, Miss Michelle, roll out every week?
  • It takes 1 hour to bake a pie.  The diner has 3 ovens and each oven can accommodate 4 pies at a time.  How many hours does famed pastry chef, Miss Michelle, need to bake every pie? (answers at bottom of post)

dvorak portrait

Finally, DVOŘÁK DAZZLED –  on the classical music front, it was Antonín Dvořák week at the STORIES AND STUDIES CENTER (my son’s bedroom):

  • Slavonic Dance No. 1 in C major, composed around 1880.  This is one of our favorites and it gets the performance it deserves by the Vienna Philharmonic.  Side notes:  1)  As per usual, conductor Seiji Ozawa’s hair is too wild to be ignored – we should all be so confident.  2)  If you look closely, you will actually see a woman in the orchestra (back row,  violin section).  This video footage was posted in 2008 (so I don’t know when it was filmed) and I am sure the orchestra is trying to be more with the times, BUT REALLY.

  • Humoresque No. 7, composed in 1894 – we love the way YoYo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and conductor Ozawa transform this carefree little piece into a heartbreaker.

  • Song to the Moon, from the opera, “Rusalka”, premier performance in 1901.  Soprano Susan Karinski and the US Navy Band deliver an exquisite performance.  ATTENTION EVERYBODY:  Susan Karinski.  Whoa.  

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  yes, 105 pie crusts, 2 hours)

1809: What Went So Right

1809:  Brilliant Work, Moms! 

lincoln    darwin    mendelssohn    poe

Abraham Lincoln, born February 12, 1809
Charles Darwin, born February 12, 1809
Felix Mendelssohn, born February 3, 1809
Edgar Allan Poe, born January 19, 1809

We are currently studying:
Louis Braille, born January 4, 1809

braille bio

My son and I decided to learn about Louis Braille (1809 – 1852) and we struck gold with the extraordinarily well researched book, “Louis Braille – A Touch of Genius”, by C. Michael Mellor.  Almost scrapbook in style and continually captivating: 

  • photographs, vintage illustrations, postage stamps, transcribed letters, sidebars of historical significance, examples of reading systems for the visually impaired
  • Louis Braille’s family and the tragic mishap that left him blind at age 3
  • comprehensive information about the Institute for the Blind in Paris, France – the only school for the blind in all of Europe at the time – where Louis was enrolled at age 10  
    • innovations/controversies of each headmaster 
    • school curriculum – education, job training, and music.  We learned that in addition to being an outstanding student, Louis was a prize winning cello player and also earned a side income by playing the organ   
  • Louis Braille’s contributions:
    • the raised 6-dot cell code (at age 15)(!!!) that is now, worldwide, called “braille”
    • a device that allowed for written communication between the visually impaired and the sighted (the first dot-matrix printer) 
    • a raised dot system for reading music 

Louis Braille passed away at age 43 of tuberculosis.  We finished the book heartened and heartbroken.

More talk about Louis Braille – When I texted superb educator, Jill R.A., that my son and I were in the midst of a study unit on Louis Braille, she texted back:

Oh! I love that! Louis Braille is a hero of mine so I tell everybody about him!  My title is Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI).  I am an itinerant (good vocab word) teacher which means I travel to wherever blind and visually impaired students are, which may be at home, day care, or schools.  Some TVI’s teach in a classroom at a blind school,  but I see students that attend public schools and are attending general ed classes.  I also work with students from birth up to age 21. I generally consult with teachers and help them understand how to best teach the student who is visually Impaired.  However,  I have braille students who I meet with at least 3 times a week for braille lessons. I even have a few babies who will be braille readers and I meet with them and their parents for pre-braille activities to get their little fingers ready and sensitive to feel the dots.  We will play in rice and beans and pick out different things.   We also start “looking” at books really early so that they know to feel for the dots. It’s a fantastic job!”

Look at the variety of braille learning tools that  Jill R.A. sent to augment our unit (I told you she was superb):

braille tools

Poe Poems – my son and I explored two lengthy poems by 1809 birthday boy, Edgar Allan Poe:  his  happiness-to-misery blueprint in “The Bells” (1849) and the tortured loneliness pervasive in “The Raven” (1845).  So gorgeously composed, each word so fastidiously selected, but YIKES.

beatnik style

Poetry Night at Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner recently hosted a 1950’s “Beatnik” style poetry reading night.  Patrons were encouraged to  dress beatnik style (cool, man, cool) and arrive ready to recite a poem.  There were prizes for the best and worst outfits, best and worst poems, and best and worst poem delivery.  Well!  The diner was overwhelmed by the turn out!  150 people showed up and 80% were in costume, and 20% were brave enough to recite a poem.

1- How many patrons arrived in costume?
a).  16     b).  80     c).  100     d).  120

2- How many patrons recited a poem?
a).  20     b).  30     c).  50     d).  75

3- What percentage of the entire attending crowd received a prize?
a).  4%     b).  6%     c).  20%     d).  50%

4- Should poetry night be an annual event at the diner? (answers at bottom of post)

Mendelssohn Music – we celebrated another 1809 birthday boy (this one with a brighter point of view than Poe) by listening to three of our favorite pieces by Felix Mendelssohn – 

  • Overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream, composed 1826.  So very clever.  An excellent performance by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (where Mendelssohn served as a very beloved Music Director from 1835 – 1847):

  • Symphony No. 4 (“The Italian”), movement 1, composed in 1833.  Happy, breezy.  A glossy smooth performance under the baton of Metropolitan Orchestra (Sydney, Australia) conductor, Sarah-Grace Williams:

  • Violin Concerto in E minor, finale, composed 1844.  This is the movement that my son and I call “the cat and mouse movement”….lots of brisk “advance/retreat”.  This is an old recording, but we are mesmerized by the precision that Itzhak Perlman brings to this performance:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1) d.  120,  2) b. 30,  3)  a. 4%,  4)  Yes, of course!)

Doc and Bach

front desk book

Last week’s stories and studies agenda:
  become informed about world ecosystems via Rachel Ignotofsky’s superb book, “The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth”:  CHECK
  cheer for everything protagonist Mia Tang stands for in Kelly Yang’s important fiction read, “Front Desk”:  CHECK
But really, the past week has been dominated by Albert Schweitzer and Johann Sebastian Bach.

schweitzer at organ face right    bach organ

Scholarly, Spiritual, Musical – Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) – doctorates in theology (vocab), philosophy, and medicine.  Pipe organ virtuoso.  Authority on the works of JS Bach (and 4 published papers to prove it).  Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1952.  Whoa.

We are leaning forward as we read through Ken Gire’s bio of Dr. Schweitzer, “Answering the Call”.  The book begins as Schweitzer and his wife, Helene, make their way to Lambaréné, Gabon (Africa) where they set up the area’s first hospital.  The past few evenings we have been learning about how WWI – so very far away in Europe (globe out) – drastically affected the economy in Gabon.  And FOR HEAVENS SAKES Albert and Helene were sent back to France to be imprisoned during the war, leaving the people of Lambaréné with no medical care. (Discussion topic with my son:  is this right?  what would we have done?)  What next?  We’re riveted.

albert and bach books

Schweitzer’s interest is our interest – Because of Schweitzer’s fascination with all things Bach, we are darting around David Gordon’s “The Little Bach Book” learning lots about Bach’s world (1685-1750).  This neat little reference is packed with well researched information, delivered with sly humor (pretty much an A+ sort of book): 

  • quotes about Bach by other composers (superlative after superlative) (vocab) 
  • feather pens; until 1820 (when metal ink pens debuted), composers used feather quills to write their music.  We found out that one could write/compose for about 5 minutes with a particular feather before it had to firm up, be cleaned or recut
  • men’s hair fashion (wigs)  
  • dental care in the 1700’s (yeeks)

violin outdoors

Meanwhile, BACH at the ranch (a Farmer Brown story problem) This summer, Farmer Brown’s ranch will be the site of a series of 3 outdoor symphony concerts featuring 30 Bach compositions, which may sound like a lot of Bach, but when the BWV (which my son and I learned was the official Bach Works Collection listing) was last tallied in 1998, the list of compositions attributed to this musical genius totaled over 1,100 pieces.   Approximately what percentage of Bach’s total output will be performed during the ranch concert series?
A.   1%     B.   3%     C.   15%     D.   30%     (answer at bottom of post)

More and More Bach – Over the years my son and I have downloaded several (32 to be exact) Bach compositions onto our iPod and this week we listened thoughtfully to each one.  My son “reviewed” each piece, and we listened again to his favorites:

bach quiz

  • Sheep May Safely Graze, composed in 1713.  Calming perfection:

  • Invention No. 13 in A minor, composed about 1720.  A super short jewel played skillfully on the harpsichord by a 9 year old!

  • Finally, we listened to THE GRAND, THE MIGHTY, THE REPETITIVE Symphony No. 5 in F minor, movement 5 (the toccata) (1879) composed by Charles-Marie Widor, recognized Bach scholar AND Schweitzer’s organ professor at the Paris Conservatory.  A high energy performance by virtuoso Frederick Hohman:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  B.  3%)

Referencing Robert Burns

On the grounds that my son has enough to deal with – I do my best to keep themes of MAN’S INHUMANITY TO MAN* removed from our stories and studies.  However, last night three of our books ambushed us with the ugliness of RACISM:

three books 

  • From Kelly Yang’s novel, “Front Desk”:  racism and racial profiling
  • From Rachel Ignotofsky’s “Women in Science”:  we hated learning that brilliant ophthalmologist/inventor Patricia Bath contended with racism throughout her academic career
  • From Kekla Magoon’s novel, “The Season of Styx Malone”:  we are pretty sure that the reluctance of our protagonists’ father to allow his children to venture into the big city is based upon a past trauma rooted in racism

I provided my son with a concise explanation of racism, and followed up with some questions:

  • does it seem smart or ridiculous to assign specific characteristics to an entire group of people based on appearance?
  • do we need to make others look bad to make ourselves feel good?
  • is racism ever acceptable?
  • what letter grade would we give racism?

robert burns

*“Man’s inhumanity to man” – the phrase was first used by Scottish treasure, Robert Burns, in his lengthy poem of 1784, “Man was made to mourn:  A Dirge”.  We carefully examined each line of this stanza (vocab):

Many and sharp the numerous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

natural attraction book

Why can’t we be friends? – My son and I are reading from Iris Gottlieb’s cutie of a book “Natural Attraction”, which is filled with examples of unexpected and beneficial partnerships in nature:  tarantulas/frogs, ants/aphids, whales/barnacles.  (New vocab:  symbiotic and mutualism.)  This book offers an uplifting way to conclude each night’s academic agenda.

scot lion

Story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – to bring attention to Robert Burns’ 260th birthday, the diner owner was thinking about adding “A Taste of Old Scotland” onto the dinner menu, but there proved to be no interest among the chefs in preparing haggis, so as sort of a second choice, butterscotch sundaes were added onto the dessert menu as a watered down nod to the great poet’s homeland.  I know, so lame.  Over the course of the first month on the menu, 500 butterscotch sundaes were served up, 80% to teenagers.  How many non-teenagers enjoyed a butterscotch sundae during this time?  (answer at bottom of post)

red rose

Music to celebrate Robert Burns – we listened to the well known Burns song, “Oh, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, and then selected two pieces that idealize his native Scotland –

  • “Oh, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, lyrics by Robert Burns (1794) set to a traditional Scots folk melody.  This is a lovely rendition, but BTW, there is the most adorable performance in the 1999 movie, “My Life So Far” –

  • Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy”, movement 4 (selected because the dominant melodic theme is based upon a Burns song, “Scots Wha Hae”), composed in 1880.  Interesting note:  Max Bruch’s first visit to Scotland was one year AFTER the premiere of his “Fantasy”.  Another interesting note:  this youtube video indicates that we are listening to movement 5, but we are not.  This is fake news;  there is no movement 5.  This is a clerical error. –

  • Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor (known as “The Scottish”), movement 2, composed in 1842, as he reflected upon his 1829 sojourn to Scotland.  The short movement is full of bounce and spirit and this performance is conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.  Winner, winner! –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  100 non-teenagers)

New Year, New Books

2019

(Christmas gift – thank you Jimmy)  On the basis of a single book, “Women in Science”, my son and I welcome to our academic library ANY book book written by Rachel Ignotofsky.  WOW.  Ms. Ignotofsky certainly meets her goal of creating educational works of art;  this  dazzling book is intelligently organized and jammed with the kind of information we want to know about.  So far, we have been enticed into learning about the contributions of women astronomers, chemists, mathematicians, entomologists, paleontologists, engineers, electricians, geneticists, and geologists.  This book is such a keeper.

timeline book

(Christmas gift – thank you Aunt Janet)  The Smithsonian “Timelines of Everything” book offers up approximately 150 timelines, each commanding a giant two-page spread.  The focus of each timeline is narrow and we always find something worth discussing further.  For instance:

  • agriculture – we spent some time musing over the fact that sheep were raised for milk and food beginning around 7,000 BCE, but wool was not woven into into fabric until 4,000 BCE (Whoa. A 3,000 year time gap).
  • the wheel – the first wheels were potters’ wheels (we did not guess this – and we do know all about potters’ wheels from our study of ceramic artist George E. Ohr).  
  • the written word – we marveled over the Rosetta Stone.
  • games – we now know that when we play tic-tac-toe we are playing one of mankind’s oldest games (first century BCE) (seriously, the 3 Wise Men could have known how to play tic-tac-toe).
  • religions – I had no idea that this would lead to a discussion of REINCARNATION.  But, duh, OF COURSE.  If one hasn’t heard of reincarnation one would want to spend a bit of time grasping the concept.

styx malone

Fiction Fun – “The Season of Styx Malone”, by Kekla Magoon. Styx is full throttle coolness and confidence.  Do we trust him?  We just don’t know.  This keeps us leaning forward as we read chapter after chapter.  Please don’t disappoint us Styx!

running dog

A super short, super easy Farmer Brown story problem – Often people visiting the ranch bring their dogs, so Farmer Brown’s farmhands have fenced in two dog runs for visiting canines.  Which dog run will give the animals more square footage:  the 6’x25’ run or the 5’x30’ run?  (answer at bottom of post)

conductor match

Classical Quiz – I wanted to check to see if my son was retaining info about the great musicians we have been listening to, so he matched up virtuosos with their instrument.  A few conductors were tossed into the mix to make things tricky.  FYI:  my son scored 100%.

music notes

That sounds familiar –  It is no secret that composers often borrow musical ideas from other composers.  (Usually they give credit, sometimes they get into BIG trouble).  Anyway,  I happen to like tracing routes of melodies through the centuries, so my lucky son gets to enjoy listening to my melody match-ups.  Quick examples:

  • Jacque Arcadelt’s Ave Maria melody of the mid 1500’s can be found in both Camille Saint-Saens’ 1886 Organ Symphony and the Finlandia Hymn from Jean Sibelius’ 1899 symphonic poem, Finlandia.
  • Luigi Denza’s Finiculi Funicula (1880) is front and center in Richard Strauss’s  Aus Italian (1886) and in Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Neapolitan Song (1907).
  • Brahms’ Symphony 3, movement 3 (1883) provides the melody line for  Carlos Santana’s Love of My Life (1999).

And this leads us to Bach and Rock – 

lute

Last week we listened to Bourrée in E minor from JS Bach’s Lute Suite No. 1, composed around 1710.  Nice, short, memorable melody (and my son learned that a guitar may be substituted for a lute).  A jewel of a performance by Kevin Low – and check out the loose  guitar strings:  

Then we listened to rock-group-from-the-60’s/70’s Jethro Tull’s recording of “Bouree”.  Such a lively interpretation of the Bach suite movement, but it is clear that lead musician, Ian Anderson, had not much experience playing the flute.  We read a few interviews and found out that Anderson was a self-taught flutist, admitting that he had no idea what he was doing.  So we say BRAVO to his CAN DO attitude.  

We concluded by listening to a 2005 recording of Ian Anderson playing the same piece, “Bouree”, with orchestral support.  Anderson did well with the 35 year practice period!  YAY. 

Also, we learned that the real Jethro Tull (inspiration for the rock group’s name) was a noted British agriculture pioneer (1674-1741).

jethro tull

Welcome to the best part of my day!
-Jane BH
(Story problem answer:  both dog run designs have the same square footage – 150 square feet)